EU! - Meet the Europeans
It is surely not a coincidence that a First European Film and Music Festival - at a time when the world commemorates 60 years of peace - was hosted by a German organisation, namely the Goethe Institute in Toronto. A united and growing Europe is looking ahead without the shame and blame attitude of past decades and instead acknowledges a good friend and partner in Germany, worth playing the games that create future with together as friends.
That was largely the tenor with all the speeches given and heard by many as this interesting festival unfolded. Already on the evening of the opening - it happened to be Mother’s Day, May 8th, 2005 - the Cultural Attaches and Consul Generals of several European countries gathered at the Goethe Institute in Toronto on King Street against the background of a Toronto-Berlin Photo exhibit and part of an ongoing cultural exchange program organized by the capable Doina Pupesco, Deputy Director and Program Coordinator of the institute.
The Polish Consul General was seen to admire the photographic artworks by Petra Karadimas of Berlin. Some of her photographs look like Cezanne paintings in primary colours as tree stems line up in front of a wall with incredibly colourful graffiti.
Whoever had turned up on this warm May evening was much taken with the venue and the occasion. Conversations were animated and when the time came to enter Kinowelt Hall and listen to the speeches of the various countries’ representatives after Dr. Arpad Soelter opened the proceedings with his own remarks the mood did not change much. It never became morose or too serious, but remained somewhat upbeat and festive.
Being able to remember the past as the past, instead of something active in the present, is indeed a vast step forward and to be applauded, especially in the arena of Human Rights and the Humanities in general. None of the presenters dwelled on the past unduly, just long enough to acknowledge that there was a past full of human suffering and injustice.
Dr. Sölter was wondering if people back on May 1945 would have been able to imagine what was going to happen 60 years later, that here and now people that did no longer think of each other as enemies but as friends, that Europe would be united as the word’s largest economic entity, in peace, democracy and prosperity. Who indeed imagined that?
He was also wondering what to tell his own son, who is 8 years old and speaks fluent German, English and Polish, about this time so long ago, and how to teach him to never let something like a "Zivilisationsbruch"7, a breakdown in civilisation, happen again anywhere.
He spoke of a new crossroad in the European union, one that will decide how united Europe really will be by a joint constitution. He was speculative about a possible No-vote in france, which is exactly how it turned out to be.
How will Europeans find the necessary courage for its survival?
Time will tell and this first European Film and Musik Festival was designed to put Europe on the Canadian map, so Dr. Sölter, and brought Europeans and Canadians closer together.
The films of 15 countries illustrated a lot about each one of them, how they look at life, how they deal with it. And as European expatriates we understand what was said, even if we are somewhat removed from those same sentiments, having developed quite different styles of living. Small spaces and different minds are no longer that familiar to us having lived here in the wide-open vistas of Canada. Only in the inner cities do our urban problems have a lot of similarities. Racism and xenophobia are a lot less pronounced in our midst then in Europe where cultural identities are often still starkly different from each other. We have lived in a multicultural society for a much longer time and are used to it.
Film offerings such as the ones in this festival have a particularly great value in education and widening ones horizon as to the apparent conditions. Another feature is the fact that even though we have an annual International Film Festival in Toronto (September), many of the films that were shown here at the Goethe Institute have not and might not be shown at the big festival, even though they are multi award winning in Europe, as Doina Popesco pointed out.
Mr. Napoleon Winia, Consule for Trade and Culture of the Consulate General of the Netherlands, thanked all the participants in the time consuming task of putting this festival together, especially Dr. Arpad Soelter and his deputy Doina Popescu, as well as the director of the Italian Cultural Institute Carlo Coen. Everyone was confident that Canadians and Europeans have enough in common to make this a success, and of course they were right since a lot of us hail from Europe.
Mr. Winia also reminded us that on May 9th it was Schumann Day, commemorating Robert Schumann who ultimately is the founding father of the EU. That it took 60 years to make it a growing proposition is witness to the success of the concept.
The many films – one of the German entries "Gegen die Wand"/"Against the Wall" will be shown in a Toronto cinema in June… Watch for listings…- were all rich in traditions, in current and past cultural expression, illustrating the human condition we are all so familiar with.
Often dark and sad, but also hopeful and in search of things worth celebrating about life the festival culminated in a final concert at the fabulous Glenn Gould Studio with the Stark Trio made up of Alexander Stark, violin, originally from Vilna, Lithuania, Bella Steinbuk, piano, originally from Belarus, Nata Belkin, cello, originally from Kamensk-Uralsk, Russia. The trio performed works from Casella, Francaix, Barkauskas, Penderecki and Beethoven to a standing ovation. Each performer delivered with such extreme authority and confidence that it was almost overwhelming to listen to. What a tour de force!
Introduced was the trio on this occasion by yet another contingent of participating countries: Sisko Peltone-Siren from the Consulate of Finland, Piotr Strutynski, Cultural Attaché of Poland, and Carlo Coen from The Italian Cultural Institute.
Before during and after the performance the mood was upbeat, exited, and happy. It was clear that friendships and ties had been made and strengthened.
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